ali ahmet mert does a hook em in front of the texas global building

Turkish Student Came to UT for English Program, Left With Engineering Degree

  • Aug 29, 2019

Ahmet Mert came to Austin in 2016 as a student in the Academic English Program, with the end goals of improving his English and getting a master’s degree in civil engineering. He accomplished those goals at UT this past spring and is now improving the infrastructure in his home country of Turkey as a geotechnical engineer.

Mert already had an outstanding engineering background before coming to UT. In 2012, he graduated from Eskisehir Technical University in Turkey with two bachelor’s degrees in both civil engineering and environmental engineering, and obtained a master’s degree from Istanbul Technical University shortly after. 

He attended UT as a graduate student through a government sponsorship program from the Directorate of State Hydraulic Works of Turkey. His research focuses on slope stability and preventing landslides.

His persistence in building connections is what got him to where he is now. During his time in the English program, Mert made it a priority to connect with professors from his department and get his foot in the door as he was applying to the geotechnical engineering graduate program. 

“The best thing about coming here to Austin as an ESL student was I could have the chance to talk to the professors right here at UT,” he said. “I went there and I told them what I did and in which area I want to study and do research, and I got some good feedback from the professors.”

Mert said that while networking with UT faculty is important, you also have to be prepared to show them your work and do your research before contacting them.

“I came in with a portfolio folder,” he described. “I was like, ‘I did this and that, and this training and this is my ranking … so I did the research and I found that you are working in this area. Do you think we would work together if I applied? And they were like ‘Sure, you look like a good candidate, why not?’”

Being enrolled in the Academic English Program equipped him with strong research skills—a requirement for graduate school. For example, AEP trained Mert to use databases such as Google Scholar for research.

“It's not like you just dive into the ocean of graduate school, but you at least know what's going on there,” he explained. “For my thesis, I need to do a lot of research. I learned how to read and highlight – it’s about efficient reading, not just reading, keeping it in your mind so that you can summarize and understand what's going on. That's the critical thinking part.”

Ahmet takes a selfie with fellow graduate engineers

As a graduate student, Mert was passionate about mentoring and helping other prospective international students at UT. Last year, he was a mentor for students of the KAUST Gifted Student Program, a sponsorship program for top-achieving high school seniors from Saudi Arabia to prepare them for college in the U.S. As a mentor, Mert had the opportunity to help the students ease the stress of applying to universities in the U.S.

“I was in their shoes once,” Mert said. “I also needed the same help they did, and it was stressful. You are trying to motivate students who are getting ready for college but actually you are also learning a big deal there.”

His experience as a mentor inspired him to be an international orientation advisor last semester, helping international students with settling in at UT. From this experience, Mert gained intercultural communication skills and made connections with new international students who are now a part of his department.

“I got to meet different people from different parts of the world, different countries,” he said. “I met some of them who are going to study in my department, and now I see them and sometimes we hang out.”

While he plans to continue his new position as a professional engineer in Turkey, he still hopes to use his skills on a global scale and work with others from around the world.

“I don't want to limit myself in just engineering or civil engineering,” Mert said. “I want to see different projects in different countries.”